I wish I had.
But again, unlike the try-too-hards out there that do the cinema verite style to death just for the sake of doing it, the merry-mixer effect here is well-chosen, but no easier to take. After all, this is a film about a gargantuan building-crushing monster, running rampant through New York City, destroying everything it can and eating everybody it can as seen through the perspective of a single lens.
The comparisons to Godzilla (Gojira) are inevitable, of course. Yes, this has been done. However, there is literally no omniscient narrator here, actual or implied. We never jump from the victims to the military to some mad scientist to a couple of diminutive twins heralding the arrival of a giant moth. No, all we know, all we're allowed and all we still know after the credits roll is what has been recorded on a DV Tape by a small group of survivors trying desperately to survive this shocking incident. It's the other side of the Monster Movie that we don't get so much of... the confusion, the fear, the unknown. Where did this monster come from? Why did it attack? What is the ultimate outcome?
We don't know. And that works.
What was captured on the tape, we see. What wasn't, we still don't. The film opens with a disclaimer from the tape's current owners, the United States Government, explaining that this footage was recovered from "Cloverfield", the area formerly known as Central Park. Who recovered this footage and how? How long after the taping of this footage are we reviewing it? Who survived and who didn't?
We don't know. And that works.
We start with what was already on the tape, a chronicle of a very good day for Rob Hawkins and his old, dear friend Beth McIntyre (Michael Stahl-David and Odette Yustman, respectively). The tape jumps to a later date, without warning, as if someone had been reliving those memories and the new events started right where the review stopped. Suddenly we're embroiled in a surprise party for Rob, thrown by his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas). Lily had the bright idea to use Rob's camera to allow everyone at the party to record a message to Rob and the camera eventually falls into the grubby hands of Rob's best friend Hud (T.J. Miller). What kind of a guy is Hud? Well, he's pretty much the last person you'd want in the movie theatre with you while you're watching Cloverfield. While his sights are set on recording everything he can (private or not) and hopefully picking up the hot party guest he has a crush on (Lizzy Caplan's Marlena), something else nearby has different plans for the night as what feels like an earthquake shakes the city. Then a large explosion takes place.
And then the Statue of Liberty's head crash lands in the middle of the street right in front of them.
In other words, the party ends up being a total bummer, dude.
Naturally everyone originally thinks "Terrorist Attack"... until they see something very large and very alive pounding through the city. For the next seven hours (only about 74 minutes of which were successfully recorded or, at least, made the final cut) the party guests try desperately to find each other, stick together, evade the giant rampaging beast and stay alive. They manage a few of these. Meanwhile Hud records as much as he can (while running around, dodging debris, fighting monsters and more shaky things) in order to chronicle "how it all went down".
The idea is just crazy enough to work, really. And whose idea was this? Well, let's see... a bunch of ordinary people trapped on an island, trying desperately to escape while an oft-unseen, loud monster stalks them? Sounds like J.J. Abrams to me! And it is. Abrams produced this film with his frequent collaborators Drew Goddard and Matt Reeves handle the writing and directing jobs, respectively.
Yes, we've seen Kaiju movies before, yes, even those that feature New York. Yes, we've seen the now-familiar concept of the small group of young people braving the dangerous unknown armed with nothing but a camera, only to have their shocking footage found and studied at a later date. The twain had yet to meet, up until now, but this combination is only one thing that makes Cloverfield interesting and unique. It's the human story that drives Cloverfield. During the relatively brief party sequences, we're given a peek at the lives of these people. It's only a peek, but this peek would be worth knowing more about. Further, just as with real-life DV Tapes that have been taped over, the stop/ start times aren't exact. We see varied snippets here and there of that "very good day" that tells us a little more about these characters. It has nothing to do with the monster but... Well... does it?
But that is probably the point! Theoretically the monster doesn't really matter here. The monster is key only to the disaster that puts these characters on this path. It's far from incidental, obviously, but the real story is the survival of these people. The parts we see and the parts that are only implied.
That's the element that makes Cloverfield most compelling. Cloverfield shows us some wonders, but more importantly, we see things that make us wonder. Should we have seen much more it may have been too much, any less and so many thoughts may not be provoked. Cloverfield is one of those movies that is at its best after the closing credits roll, when the ambiguous puzzle pieces can be thought about, sorted through and discussed. It's more than just the fact that so much is unexplained and left up to our imagination. It's the strangely divergent elements of tragedy, love story, Fan-Boy Monster Movie, Horror Film, Survival Thriller, Documentary-Style narrative and mystery that keeps our attention. The mystery began over the summer, with the preview at the beginning of Transformers that didn't even give us the name of the film, just the date and the name of the producer. It continues during the film when the peeks we're given cause us to beg for eyefuls. It keeps going after the film as we try to figure everything out.
Of course, Cloverfield is also at its best after it's over, simply because it's difficult to endure. I don't mean the horrific aspects (though those are there), and I certainly don't mean because the film fails in any significant way. It's well-acted, natural and interesting. The real difficulty here is in the disconcerting way this was filmed. To have had this suddenly become a steady, smooth-shot film would have been to take away its realism (and the fact that we're talking about a movie with a giant CGI noisy neighbor with tentacles, realism is a unique concept). That said, at times this constant factor can be overwhelming to the senses and can turn the screen into just about the last thing you could ever want to look at. This would be a shame, considering what a visual film this really is.
Still, the film isn't perfect. It isn't unreasonable to speculate that a lot of the shakiness and overwhelming nightmare sounds work also to cover the flaws that this film holds. This goes a bit further than its essential themes having been done already. Re-imagining Cloverfield as a straight movie, this might not have had the impact it did. Without these strange, divergent elements, the derivative elements may have become more distinct. Even the potentially iconic Statue of Liberty scene (inverted for the movie poster) was admittedly inspired by the poster art for Escape from New York! Does this make Cloverfield's main assets "gimmicks"? Perhaps. But these are gimmicks that work, even if I'll admit that I could live the rest of my life without ever seeing this film-in-a-blender on the big screen ever again. I really liked it... but I was glad when it was over.
How this film managed to take so many elements that we've seen before and fuse them together into something unique is a secret we should all have. But secrets are what this film is all about. Without them, half the fun and satisfaction evaporates. Even with them, this most realistic of Kaiju films suffers from its own strange assets and becomes a very weird dichotomy of the elements the film requires to be unique becoming the very things that make it hard to endure. Oddly, the film never quite brings you into its story personally as we all have that added element of safety, being the party that reviews the tape after the fact. Still there's no lack of empathy from the separation. Four Stars out of Five for Cloverfield, by any name. This is not your father's Godzilla movie. This is more along the lines of what one might expect if given the strange opportunity to see a Giant Monster Movie as filtered through the brains of the people who brought you Lost and Alias.
For those of you very susceptible to motion sickness or have very little desire to see an American Monster Attack movie or even any movie that features New York getting attacked, buy a ticket anyway and get your refund during the opening credits? Why? The first Teaser for 2008's (now 2009's) Star Trek (directed by Abrams) makes its debut with Cloverfield. And, folks, it's just about the best Teaser Trailer I've ever seen. NCC you in the next 1701 reels!
Stomp, Stomp, Stomp, Stomp, Stomp
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They're Gargantuan, Monstrous and huge
(meaning, I'm long winded and occasionally dull)!
What a great time to be alive when Monster Movies can be taken this seriously!
Hell, that "Jurrassic Park" scene from the 1988 Godzilla flick with all the baby-zillas is even adapted here!
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